I will be jetting off tomorrow to Washington, but before I do – a translation of Edward Lozansky’s interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda (Америка ненавидит Россию, которую сама себе придумала). Lozansky, who used to be a Soviet dissident, is the organizer of the World Russia Forum and has many strong, pertinent views on why it’s a good idea to develop the US – Russian partnership.
An American politologist and a Russian journalist from Komsomolskaya Pravda tried to find out whether it’s possible to change Washington’s attitude to Moscow.
America Hates The Russia That It Invented Itself
Discussion with Edward Lozansky, Alexei Pankin, and KP’s Aleksandr Grishin.
A new period is beginning in US – Russia relations at the start of Vladimir Putin’s new term as Russian President. Washington doesn’t hide its critical attitude to Moscow, despite mutual assurances that the Reset is here to stay. American politologist Edward Lozansky and Russian journalist Alexei Pankin are with us at Komsomolskaya Pravda to discuss what we can expect from these new developments.
For some – a partner, for others – a competitor
Lozansky: I would identify two schools of political thought and public opinion. One of them is more influential than the other. It considers Russia to be not far removed from the Soviet Union, and while there may no longer be ideological differences, geopolitical conflicts remain unresolved. That is why Russia is seen as an unfriendly country. And how do you deal with an unfriendly country? You use hard power – the Pentagon, and soft power, including the media. And you take other opportunities to portray this country in a bad light. The vast majority of the American media holds these positions.
The second school consists of pragmatists, who consider that Russia has made certain progress in areas such as freedom, human rights, and democracy. They understand that it is not perfect – there are no perfect countries. Nonetheless, Russia is an important geopolitical partner of the US, and has to be treated accordingly. No interference in its internal affairs, but a search for common problems and their solutions.
This is the main difference. The first group assumes that Russia is a competitor and an adversary. The possible future President, Mitt Romney, even claimed that Russia is Enemy Number One, a characterization to which even his fellow party members objected. The second group considers your country a partner. Unfortunately, the second school, to which I attach myself, is less significant. Its voice only occasionally seeps into the mass media, while the first one dominates.
Pankin: As the editor of the Russian version of an international publishing journal, I have a lot of contacts with foreign journalists. And I am surprised that they, who monitor the state of freedoms in Russia and – one might think – would be a highly informed public, live in a world of strange stereotypes. I was recently in Tunis, where UNESCO was marking World Press Freedom Day. I was struck by the attitudes there towards me, as if I was someone who had escaped from Putin’s torture chambers. I was unable to explain to them that I was not some kind of downtrodden person, because they simply refuse to see anything which doesn’t coincide with their stereotypes.
For instance, they tell me: “What bad luck for you, that you guys elected Putin again.” And when you try to grind in the point that Putin got a MAJORITY OF THE VOTES in the country, that he was ELECTED by the people, you can see them becoming flabbergasted as their frames of reference are challenged.
Grishin: Well doesn’t this mean that for the American political majority it doesn’t matter who’s in power in Moscow, democrats or conservatives. Putin comes in, goes out, but Russia remains a geopolitical rival or enemy. It is Russia’s very existence in its current form that the US has a problem with. Is that not so?
Lozansky: It is likely that ultimately a few things will change, if people who are prepared to help the US more come to power. Much depends to what extent your policies support American interests. Take Georgia. They got colossal financial support. The biggest in per capita terms, by the way, of all the other countries that get American aid. For all its debts – and America has huge debts – it is still able to find the funds to support Georgia, because it considered to be a country that performs certain functions that answer to US geopolitical interests.
You can also watch a detailed discussion with Lozansky on Prosveshenie TV. – AK
Fear and loathing in Washington
Grishin: Anyone in particular in Washington that Russia bothers, and how?
Lozansky: I would identify four groups, whom Russia bothers for one reason or another. First, the neocons. For them, Russia is always wrong. And they believe that it’s necessary to change the situation in Russia, relying on both hard power, and soft. This is a fairly influential group. It was especially dominant under Bush, when Cheney was one of its main leaders. And relations between Russia and America under Bush slipped below the levels of the Cold War.
The second group of the anti-Russian lobby are the ethnic communities of the East European countries, the Baltics. Those, who suffered under the USSR. For them, the new Russia might not quite be the USSR, but it is still a threat to their security. They retain the fear that Russia might at any time occupy them. The third group is the military industrial complex. For them, Russia isn’t only an enemy, but a bogeyman which they can trot out in order to earn orders and attract funding.
There is also a new element – oligarchic capital. Those are billion dollar fortunes, uncompromising hatred towards Russia’s leader. With such capital, it is possible to hire any journalist’s pen, the media. This factor, which previously did not exist, is very significant: This powerful group creates a certain background, applies pressure on the US Congress.
Grishin: Pressure on Congress – isn’t that from the realm of fantasy?
Lozansky: Every week Congress holds hearings in which Russia is subjected to the harshest criticism. Representatives of the Russian opposition take the floor. By the way, about this lack of freedom. They arrive there without ruffle or excitement, the leaders of this very opposition, from Bolotnaya. There they say the most dreadful things. Surprising even to the Americans. This is not accepted among us. You can criticize anyone you want at home, but when you go to another country, it is not acceptable to besmirch your own country… Such demeaning criticism, which Congressmen hear from Russian citizens, doesn’t happen in any other country. And then they come back to Russia.. And nobody arrests them, or throws them into any dungeons.
Pankin: What, in the opinion of Americans, now characterizes Russia? Rollback of democracy, suppression of freedom. They feel that only under Yeltsin was there a true democracy. They have forgotten Gorbachev and don’t want to understand that Yeltsin didn’t add anything to Russian freedoms, relative to the Secretary General of the CPSU Central Committee Gorbachev.
But with that very same freedom of speech, we’ve advanced very far. It has become a market. People got the opportunity, and learned to earn themselves a decent living. But all this is tossed to the side and ignored.
Our non-systemic opposition decided to ascertain the road to democracy with the American ambassador, coming as guests to Michael McFaul almost on his first day of work in Moscow.
For a large part of the US, Russia doesn’t exist
Grishin: There’s this anecdote, some people are on a famous radio station and having a live discussion on how there is no free speech in Russia and are not allowed to express their views. (AK: Refers to Echo of Moscow)
Lozansky: As regards this radio station, it truly amazes me. The majority shareholder is a structure, in which the government has a controlling stake. (AK: Gazprom) In the US we have “Voice of America”, which exists on government money. And they have no right to criticize either US policies, nor any individuals in government. In your country, this radio station almost acts as an opposition organizer. Here Russia is ahead of us on democracy.
Pankin: By the way, there are now some very interesting developments in the “Arab Spring” countries. From the stands come the same speeches which we heard back in the early 90’s, but when you climb down, you hear entirely different conversations in the gullies. That it was iPad-toting people who came out on the streets, but entirely different people came to power. In Cairo today there is panic among female professors: They fear that they’ll have a hijab forced over their heads.
Lozansky: Did you know, that after the Arab revolution, the Egyptian authorities raided the offices of Freedom House and arrested their employees, accusing them of interfering in the internal affairs of the state. And this was all after Mubarak. Also arrested were members of the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, which all continue to operate entirely freely in Moscow. And they had to be bought back.
Grishin: Let’s leave the Arabs aside, return to Russia and America and press freedoms. Edward, do you, with you views, get printed in the US? You do have, after all, many more freedoms than we do, according to US opinion.
Lozansky: Of course we have freedom – nobody is imprisoning me for my views. But there are problems with publication. The editors say, as you here put it, “Newspapers aren’t made of rubber.” And so it’s good when just one out of 15 articles goes through. But I also have an alternate path. I have a small business – “Russia House” in Washington – and I can sometimes just buy a page in the Washington Times newspaper and write everything I want to there.
But in general, I’m amazed by the significance that you attach to what they say about Russia in America. I can tell you that in America few people are actually interested in Russia. The Russian factor is mostly raised by those groups, which I described above, and they do it to advance their own interests. For the average American, especially during election season, the most important issue is the economy. The budget, gas prices, the unemployment rates are what most concern the American family. These are simple and human things, to which Russia is irrelevant.